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Theodore G. Bilbo and the Greater Liberia Act

Born on October 13, 1877, at Juniper Grove in Pearl River County, Theodore G. Bilbo occupied a place of prominence in Mississippi politics from 1909-1947.  He served as state senator, lieutenant governor, governor, and United States senator.  While many adored his passionate desire to improve the quality of life for the state’s poor and working class white citizens, his segregationist views alienated many others around the country.

Following the ideology of black radicals like Marcus Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A) and former Garveyite, Mittie Gordon, who established the Peace Movement of Ethiopia, Bilbo sponsored the Greater Liberia Act.  In 1939, Bilbo’s bill provided the opportunity for African American’s to move to Africa in an attempt to escape the racial intolerance in the United States.  In reality, his intention was to remove all African Americans from the United States creating a “white” country.

Bilbo regularly corresponded with representatives from the U.N.I. A. and the Peace Movement of Ethiopia receiving petitions signed by African Americans in favor of the bill.  The organizations collected more than two million signatures with a selection of those in the Theodore G. Bilbo Papers in Special Collections at the University of Southern Mississippi Libraries.  The collection also contains clippings, political records, correspondence, photographs, and other documents relating to his life and career.

For more information about the Theodore G. Bilbo Papers or any collection in Special Collections, contact Jennifer Brannock at Jennifer.Brannock@usm.edu or 601.266.4347.

Text by Eve Wade, History PhD student, University of Southern Mississippi